Photo: Maybe it’s just me, but as a mother, I see the future as oblivion and tomorrow all at the same time. Today my boys are babies, tomorrow they’ll be stepping out into a world that loves them, loathes them, fears them, needs them, rejects them… The time when they will not need me the way they need me right now is impossibly far away… right?
I spent time this weekend giving my hair a much-needed retwist, which was such a wonderful use of my energy. There was plenty of baby-chasing and cleaning to be sure, but I simply didn’t feel my best because my locs have been in dire need of some treatment and neating up for at least a month. Retwisting requires a bit of work–some pretreatment a few days before, a hot-oil treatment, a deep conditioning treatment and then the actual twisting which takes me about 2 1/2 hours–but all of that work is pampering, which is something that I haven’t indulged in for a long while. I am sitting here this afternoon feeling pretty and relaxed. It’s a good thing, for sure!
During some of the down-times, I watched two documentaries this weekend: An American Masters documentary on Alice Walker which was absolutely fantastic and if you are a fan of hers, you really ought to find it and watch it. I really must say, I didn’t realize how little I knew about Alice, her story, and her journey until now. It makes me admire her all the more and want to explore more of her literature and poetry. I think, actually, that I’m going to add her poetry to my reading list for this year–and that’s a big deal, because I’m not usually a fan of poetry.
The more important documentary that I was able to watch this weekend was American Promise, part of PBS’ POV series. This film followed two young, middle-class Black families as they raised their sons and started them at the prestigious Dalton School in New York City. I’d heard about the film after Sundance and had been very much looking forward to watching it. I watched it by myself first and then watched it with my husband. Being able to watch it the second time was more powerful–and to be able to experience it with The Husband was incredibly important.
This documentary has been marketed as a story about race and class in the American Education system, and I brought my own baggage as I’ve thought about my own education, the schools I’ve sent my students to, and the dreams that I have for my own sons. The timing of the TV premier of this film could not be more perfect: I’m having a lot of second-thoughts about the school I’ve chosen for Ursa Major and I’ve been wondering out loud about sending him to a different school next year. (I’ll try to write about that later this week)
While Black families and their experiences are at the heart of this documentary, and their experiences of being Black in America are highlighted in this work, my thoughts and take-aways from this film are this: It’s hard as hell to educate and raise a young man in this country–and that’s of any color. Manhood is a moving target. There are milestones and what not, but achieving manhood as a “good” and “honorable” man (or having the potential to be so?) I think is a difficult task. To pull a child through the education system, be it an ultra-elite private school or gritty urban public school or something in-between is hard as hell. We watched as these families went through the sweetness of early education (children holding baby chicks in awe) to the epic battles and disappointments of high school (finding out which colleges accepted you and rejected you). The anxieties of that senior year of high school came front and center for me. To see the journey from start to finish from the parent’s prospective was eye-opening: here were these two competent sets of parents, doing everything they could and more to ensure the best for their sons (or at least, better than they had) and the results are… interesting. I won’t spoil it. But they are interesting.
I came away thinking about how hard we push–how hard The Husband and I have pushed our sons already. It’s a funny thing about prestigious schools and programs: are we always pushing our kids into these mystified spaces for their betterment or for our ego? Every time I pause to look at the brochure for the two famous and expensive private schools here (one boys-only and the other co-ed) I really wonder now who I’m dreaming for. Is it just so that I can tell people where my sons go to school… or is it because I’m pushing to get them the best education possible? I know that our hearts were in the right place when we set out to find a preschool and a community to join. How can I retain that spirit throughout the rest of the journey when “better” and more glamorous will always be so tempting?
And to what end? I’ve been thinking about that documentary all weekend, and I can tell you that one of those boys never seemed to be happy. One family seemed to be really tuned into their son and sensitive to his wants, needs and joys… and the other one just seemed to push and push without much listening. I’m not trying to judge, but I’m saying that I noticed that one of the young men rarely seemed to have moments of joy during the documentary, even when he was supposedly doing something he liked to do. I wonder if he’d explored more about who he was, what he wanted to be, what he found interesting in the world… I wonder if the trajectory of his life would have been different? In this race that some of us middle-class families are running, I wonder if we forget about joy along the way. Some kids find strength, challenge, and ultimately a sort of happiness in their obligations and burdens… others find only misery.
I write all of this to say that I’m really thinking about what it means to raise boys. In all of the insanity that we have gone through as a family, my husband and I were very starkly reminded that this is one hell of a marathon, not a sprint. And that people who are privileged to spend more, see more, do more, be more may not always get the results that they are looking for at the end. So we should take a deep breath and dig into different areas of parenthood. Staying closely connected to who are sons are as people, even as we continue to dream big and push hard to make sure that they have the opportunity to reach their potential. That doesn’t mean giving them the wheel way too early–I’m not going to become an ultra-sensitive santimommy on you.
If you are the mother of sons (of any race), check out this film. Set it up on your DVR (I’m sure it’ll play again soon) or find a way to stream it or something. The way that the filmmakers were able to clue us in on what it takes to raise a boy from child to manhood was breathtaking and overwhelming. It left a lot to ponder and reflect on. I’m probably going to circle around this a few times, but I don’t want to spoil it off the bat. So if you are interested, watch it. Because next time I mention it, I’ll probably use more specific details–and I may forget to put a spoiler alert on it. 🙂 It’s worth your time. It’s worthy of your attention. ESPECIALLY if you are raising boys in this world.
It’s a privilege to raise boys. An honor, even. I’m having fun… most of the time. But it’s daunting to think what they have to go through, and what I’ve got to go through along with them. I’m sitting here wondering if I’m woman enough to raise them into the men I want them to be.
This is a big week: Lightspeed submission due on Friday (as I write, my writing group is tearing my draft to pieces. I hope there is something to work with after they give it a good thrashing… I’m nervous!! ), preschool meeting and preschool helping during the mid-week (AND a snow storm??), Valentine’s Day on Friday (The Husband didn’t forget this year! Picture on Wednesday!), and my in-laws will be here on Saturday.
Oh joy. In-laws. Good news for ya’ll? You KNOW I’ll have a good post on Monday.
Did I tell you that my mother-in-law gave me a mop for Christmas? I told ya’ll that, right?
Another story for Wednesday. Looks like it’s gonna be a good blogging week, too. See you then!